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Dogs as Dependants?

The taxing battle to claim your buddy.

In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.

—Benjamin Franklin

Jennifer Crooks’ job as a software applications trainer takes her regularly away from home. No matter whether she’s gone for a week or for a month, her Akita , Hoshi, goes along, too. Apart from additional charges at dog-friendly hotels, Crooks also pays for daycare facilities for Hoshi while she’s working. Needless to say, the bills add up.

If Hoshi were a toddler, Crooks would be able to claim the annual standard living deduction of around $3000 that the IRS allows parents to claim per child along with daycare fees and various other child-related expenses.

“I spend the daily personal allowance my company gives me on my dog to cover these costs, but it would be nice if I could claim her expenses independently. If dogs were considered dependents in the eyes of the IRS, I would be entitled to a tax break,” says Crooks.

“I have many clients in this situation,” says CPA Jennifer Brenner of Woodland Hills , California . “Every year at tax time, people who love their pets and, in many cases, consider them to be fur kids, sit in my office and moan and groan about not being allowed to claim certain pet bills as legitimate expenses. It’s the standard tax season lament.”

Ever since last April when a dog-loving citizen from Bayport, New York, wrote a letter to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and sent a copy to President George Bush proposing legislation that would allow animals lovers to claim their pets as dependents and get a tax break, the issue has pawed its way to the forefront of dog-oriented discussions from Albuquerque to Alaska.

An excerpt from that letter reads:

“My husband and I…have two dogs and they are our kids. If I should mistreat, neglect, abuse, or deprive my dogs of health care in any way, I can be arrested for animal cruelty. But yet, here we are spending thousand and thousands of dollars each year giving them the best care in emergency and non-emergency situations, and what do we receive? Nothing!

“I firmly believe we should propose a new law to be able to claim our dogs as dependents, whether it is for routine exams, medicines and/or emergency care. Anything would be a great assistance to pet owners.”

Since that first plea, the letters have continued to flood in to government representatives. Most are in support; some ridicule the idea. Because the Congress website protects the anonymity of anyone who writes to their state representative, it’s impossible to track down the writer of the original letter, or anyone voicing their views in this growing debate. However, these opinions are a matter of public record. ( See sidebar )

The animal rights and protection organization In Defense of Animals is urging people to vote in support of legislation that will allow pets to be treated as dependents and subsequently get tax deductions.

Justin Rudd, a well known animal charity events planner in Long Beach , California and pet parent to two Bulldogs named Rosie and Riley also supports the idea.

“If we were able to consider pets as dependents, I think it would make more people realize the importance of our animals in our lives and it would automatically generate more respect,” he says. “Right now, in terms of American law, animals are considered property. That really needs to change.”

Dr. Elliot Katz, president and founder of In Defense of Animals, feels that the problem of our attitude towards the status of pets may need to be approached on a deeper level first. He points out that the concept of “pet owner” creates a situation where animal companions are viewed as property, like cars or furniture.

“If you replace the word ‘owner’ with ‘guardian,’ it gives a different spin on how individuals and society generally sees and treats other species,” explains Katz. “If you think of yourself as ‘an owner’ of a child or a wife, you are not going to treat that living being with the same proper respect and consideration. As a guardian, the definition highlights a much more respectful and responsible relationship. At this stage, I think it’s far more important to get out the message that we must become guardians to our animals first. Then we can address issues such as tax breaks.”

Brenner agrees that changes to our laws will likely come slowly.

“If we are ever going to seriously negotiate for legislation to make pets tax deductible dependents we need to take baby steps first and start by making spaying and neutering operations tax deductible,” she suggests . “This would certainly help to ease the burden and problems associated with pet over-population.”

However, Rudd asserts that his dogs are contributing members of society and should be given credit for their worth.

“I want a deduction for every single smile that my dogs have put on somebody’s face. I would be a very rich man!”

He is unquestionably speaking for every pet lover out there who would like to rewrite Franklin ‘s words as: “ In this world nothing is certain but death and the love of my dog.”

  1. •To read the original letter written to Senator Clinton and President Bush and the subsequent responses, visit www.congress.org and click on “taxes” on the Take Action by Issue button on the homepage. If you are a U.S. citizen, you can also write directly to your state senator or local representatives via this website and view letters written to them.
  2. •Read more about animal guardians by visiting the In Defense of Animals website atwww.indefenseofanimals.org . You can support the proposed tax legislation via this website, too.
  3. •Visit the Institute for Animal Rights Law website and learn more about the model statues for proposed legislations dealing with a spay/neuter tax deduction and other possible deductible issues. www.instituteforanimalrightslaw.org

 

This article is from Modern Dog Magazine